Flexibility in Central America

Katie is a junior at Duke University, currently studying abroad in Central America with CGEE. This is an excerpt from Katie’s blog, which you can find here. Her blog is a great resource for anyone considering study abroad in Central America!

Katie B, Casa Xelaju, fall 2015
What does flexibility look like traveling in Central America?

It looks like getting used to rescheduling your classes when they’re cancelled due to protests over corruption (Guatemala) or the building of a new canal (Nicaragua).

​It looks like knowing your taxi or shuttle might not arrive on time, without letting that stress you out.

It looks like figuring out how to bathe in a little den with a pot of boiling water and two buckets.

It looks like not being scared to ask for directions every once (or twice) in a while.

It looks like being open to making mistakes while learning a new language and understanding that you won’t understand everything.  And that’s okay.

…And it looks like realizing that sometimes the best experiences in life are the unplanned experiences.

A Day (or two) in the life of a CGEE Central America student

This post was written by CGEE staff member Lucy Hardaker, who works at the Minneapolis office at Augsburg College.

The CGEE Central America semester students are some of the busiest study abroad students around. Not only are they going through an experiential program, but they are doing so amid a busy travel schedule! It was always difficult for me to fully grasp what a “Day in the Life” of a student must be like, but after my short visit to Nicaragua, I am beginning to understand.

First up was a full day of Nicaraguan sightseeing in the cities of Granada and Masaya, including the Masaya Volcano. This was a great introduction for both me and the students, as they had just arrived from Costa Rica only a few days earlier.

The next day, I learned what the academics of CGEE are all about. Students began the day with discussion, and then were taken to a local non-profit center (Coordinadora Civil), where we listened to a guest panel about getting the local youth involved with their country’s politics and social movements.

After lunch, I was given a tour of the Batahola Norte neighborhood where CGEE semester students stay while in Managua. Ruth Garrido guided me around multiple host families’ homes. Although I do not speak Spanish (Ruth translated for me), it was clear to see from happiness on each one of their faces that they thoroughly enjoyed hosting students.

The next day, I saw experiential education in action. Class began with a short film on the history of Augusto Sandino, followed by a discussion about the film, and a previously assigned reading. After the discussion, students were brought to Loma de Tiscapa – the site on which Sandino was executed, where there now stands a monument to him that watches over the entire city.

After only a few short days with CGEE Central America Students, I was finally able to see why our programs are so transformative with my own two eyes. Not only were the Central America staff some of the most friendly, welcoming, and dedicated individuals I have ever met, but the knowledge of the region’s history and culture combined with experiential education model is one of the best ways for students to truly understand the culture in which they are studying.

Reflections on El Salvador from Augsburg College student Hannah Schmit

Post from Hannah Schmit, Augsburg College student who traveled to El Salvador as part of a winter break course. Hannah also recorded a YouTube video about her experience.  

The crowded plane jostled onto the tarmac and my travel-wearied body snapped Alert.  The piercing lights of distant planes cut through the dark blue haze of night. We had arrived in San Salvador.  For the following ten days, I along with my classmates and professor, journeyed through the streets, cities, and lives of the people of El Salvador.  We began in the city and were given invaluable experiences with church groups and speakers who explained the history of the tumultuous country and gave us glimpses of the true heart of the people. We traveled to a town called Suchitoto, where we heard pure voices of those who had experienced tragedy as they tried to teach us how to forgive. Another voice from Suchitoto spoke of peace and music, of dancing and love, and most importantly of using the gifts given to us by God to make the most out of our lives.  From Suchitoto we traveled to Nueva Esperanza, new hope, and met with calloused hands and friendly smiles. The people of Nueva Esperanza showed us the power of family and community in the face of adversity. We remember those who have shared their lives with us and we honor those who passed in the civil war.



Ohio State Agricultural Studies Students Travel to CGEE-Nicaragua

The Center for Global Education in Nicaragua began the New Year with a new group!

The Ohio State University Agricultural Studies program brought a group of 20 first-year students to Nicaragua to learn first-hand about a variety of agricultural practices and techniques used throughout Nicaragua. Because of the agricultural focus of the travel seminar, students spent the majority of the trip outside of Managua, exploring several rural communities in the northern region of Nicaragua.

The seminar began with a two-night homestay experience in the community of Garbo located at the entrance of the Nicaraguan biosphere reserve called Bosawas. Students received a step-by-step explanation and demonstration of the coffee process and even had the chance to pick coffee with the farmers. The students then traveled to a model farm called Canvalia allowed students to learn about both organic cacao production and Nicaraguan veterinarian practices.  The students caught a glimpse of a mother sloth and her baby while out hiking as well. Hands-on experiences were complemented by lectures given by local experts and technicians.  One highlight was discussing the role of women in rural life with local women farmers and female rural leaders. The group rounded out the trip up north with two nights at the world famous Selva Negra Farm and lodge where they were able to hike, go horseback riding, and receive a tour of the sustainable farm.

The trip came to an end with a lovely day at a volcanic crater lake and a visit to the Masaya Craft Market for shopping.  The Ohio State students enjoyed a stunning sunset at the volcano edge.  The group was led by CGEE-Augsburg in-country guide Joe Connelly, with the assistance of David Keegan, who was kind enough to provide yoga classes for the group each morning.  CGEE-Nicargua loved hosting the “OSU Ag” students and are excited that they will be back in Nicaragua in January 2016. The 2016 seminar will include excursions to different regions of the country and will include a focus on the production of sugar cane, tobacco, peanuts and sesame.

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January Short-Term Programs in Guatemala

Fidel Xinico-Tum, Program Coordinator, worked with the following groups in Guatemala in January and shared short reports from their short-term study abroad program.

Boston College, January 4-11, 2015

This group had a full experience that covered religion and social change, military issues, and public health.

Upon arrival, that participants went directly to the Mission of San Lucas Toliman, where they had the opportunity to tour the development projects. Students learned about the influence of the Catholic Church in social change, particularly in increasing access to education, health services, land and housing.  The Boston College group was able to visit and family home, where they learned from a community member about growing up on a coffee plantation.  Through the support of the mission projects, he was able to liberate himself and now lives in his own house in the town of San Lucas Toliman with his family.

The group then continued on to the ex-guerrilla community of Santa Anita in Colomba, where students lodged with homestay families.  They met a current member of the Guatemalan army and learned about the present-day role of the military.   In this community, the Boston College group also met with a doctor to learn about health issues, especially as they relate to Guatemalan women.

St. Catherine University, January 5-27, 2015

This trip focused on health in the context of social, political, economic, spiritual, cultural, historical and environmental influences.  The group was very intentional in looking at health broadly and deeply, not just in the context of the absence of disease.   St. Kate’s students started their experiential learning journey in Guatemala City visiting the garbage dump and then seeing a mall in the “new Guatemala” to make that contrast. They were also able to meet with young people who are struggling to overcome drug addiction.

After spending time in the city, the group traveled to the countryside, where they learned about health issues in rural, economically disadvantaged areas.  A highlight was meeting with a local midwife.


Alumni Profile: Hannah Petterson, Study Abroad in Central America

An interview with Hannah Pettersen, Augsburg College, ’15.  Hannah studied abroad with CGE in Central America in 2014.

two students pose with horses
Hannah’s study abroad selfie in Central America!

Why did you decide to study abroad?

Since high school, going abroad was a dream of mine, and I was lucky enough to be able to fulfill that dream. I have such wanderlust, and going abroad only enhanced that.

Why did you choose to study abroad in Central America?

I was not looking for the typical study abroad experience, and this program fed into my craving for something different. Being able to live and learn in 3 different countries was remarkable, as well as being able to experience and see many things that changed my life. As a Sociology major, all of the topics that we learned about and discussed were incredibly relevant to what I am passionate about and I could not be happier with my decision.

Why was the Social Change in Central America program so interesting?

Being able to live and learn in multiple countries is what appealed to me about this program. What also made this program so interesting was the amount of homestays we were able to have, I felt that with this I was able to immerse myself in the culture as much as any US citizen could.

What is the best part of the program?

I absolutely loved my one-on-one Spanish course in Spanish. It was a crash course to learning Spanish for me and was definitely something I needed. Pati was an amazing teacher and this class was a great start to my semester.

What would you have done differently?

I wish that I had been able to travel more independently; the schedule throughout the semester is pretty tight.

How has the return affected you?

The return has been more difficult for me than I had anticipated, but it has opened my eyes to the world around me and encouraged me to make a change in myself and work to fight oppression in Minneapolis.

Rural Homestays in Guatemala

At the crux of CGE programs is a commitment to providing several points of view and multiple perspectives on any given topic.  CGE places special emphasis on voices that are often unheard in politics, academia, and the media.  This is why students who study abroad with us in Central America experience short homestays in rural areas in each of the three countries; it is impossible to understand a country by meeting only urban dwellers.  Read on for more about the rural homestay experience during study abroad in Guatemala.

The community of Chuitziribal, Guatemala lies in stark contrast to the bustling cosmopolitan city of Quetzaltenango. One has the feeling that they are going back in time as they make the slow trek up the mountainside towards the community.  Travelers are enamored by  the sheer beauty of the place, nestled on side of a mountain with views of the Santa Maria Volcano and Cerro Quemado. The community is populated by people of the Quiche Mayan heritage, whose principal work is subsistence farming and firewood production. Our students are immediately struck by the stark simplicity and poverty of rural life, but also notice the contentment. Students lodge with local families for a week (short-term program participants sometimes visit and overnight as well).


Since the Guatemala portion of the term requires intensive one-on-one Spanish study, each student’s individual teacher commutes to the countryside every day to provide five hours of Spanish instruction. Most of the students and teachers will opt for outdoor classes, often hiking up the mountain as they practice verbs and conjugations.  After class, the students head to their homestays for lunch and some quality time with the families. By 2pm, each student returns to the make-shift school to participate in the afternoon activities.  On one day, students will participate in cooking class; the next day they will travel to local hot springs.  Students also visit a local glass factory where a cooperative of workers does artisanal glass blowing.

The experience comes to a close with a festive despedida (going away party). All of the families are invited to a community fire, where there are games, songs, and many words of thanks. Many of the families invite their guests to wear the local traditional dress for the celebration, a wonderful gesture of hospitality.


Reflections on Learning in Nueva Esperanza, El Salvador

This post is from Augsburg student Leah McDougall, who traveled to El Salvador with CGEE as part of an Augsburg College class.  

I have dreamed about traveling to Central America since I was in high school. Finally, I was given an opportunity to explore, first hand, the culture of that part of the world. El Salvador was an experience of a lifetime where I was able to become more awake and witness a different type of beauty in the world.

There are many factors that made this trip very memorable, well-rounded, and life changing. The leaders of the trip planned it so we would get a large perspective of the country.  We spent time in three different cities: San Salvador, Suchitoto, and Nueva Esperanza, and were able to see life in El Salvador from many different perspectives.  We met with local historians, attended a local mass, toured church and plaza where Archbishop Oscar Romero preached and was killed, checked out the local markets, toured museums with loads of information about the Civil War, met war and massacre survivors, spent time with Sister Peggy at the Art Center for Peace, talked with the two main political parties, visited with the US Embassy, and spent a night on the beach. Throughout all the travel within the small country, I felt pain, anger. and sadness because of the terrible war they had been through and the amount of people in severe poverty today. But I also felt a sense of hope and beauty that is hard to explain. The people we encountered were very hopeful about the future and not bitter about the past. Religion was a large impact in their life and it showed thro ugh their actions and conversations. They relied on each other’s company and companionship to get through the pain of the war, the struggles of daily life and the hardship of life.

My favorite part of the trip was the time in Nueva Esperanza. It is a small agricultural community that functions like a cooperative. In the 1980s, they were forced out of their homeland and moved to San Salvador because of the dangers of the Civil War. Later, they were sent to a refugee camp in Nicaragua where they remained until the early 1990s. I was exposed to the power of a community in three ways.  First, the majority of this community chose to stay together throughout the war and move back to their homeland together.  Second, the sense of responsibility they had for each other was prominent. They all looked after each other financially, emotionally, and physically. They made it clear through their words and actions that they would never let anyone in their community go hungry or struggle alone. Lastly, the simple lifestyle overall was something very different yet comforting to me.They worked hard and made a lot of time to be in the company of others and be present in each other’s lives. This is something I don’t always experience in my day to day life.

Leah McDougall and her CGEE group worked together with local youth the repaint this mural in Nueva Esperanza, El Salvador
Leah McDougall and her CGEE group worked together with local youth the repaint this mural in Nueva Esperanza, El Salvador